I’ve always been a watchdog when it comes to safety on set. Like a mother hen, I want to make sure that everyone is educated, cautious, and has given consent to any action taking place. I spoke to my colleague Peter King, a stunt coordinator with over 25 years of experience, about what actors need to know before diving in.
How do you determine whether an actor can do a stunt themselves versus using a stunt performer?
We are brought in when the script has scenes with any type of action or events that would require the actors to be put in any physical situation. Usually, I would never say, “The actor is doing a stunt,” but rather phrase it as “actor action.” This would be where I design the stunt in a way that the actor could do it safely and still accomplish a dynamic scene that makes the director happy. Sometimes, it may be something simple, like riding in a car that drives erratically, or something more challenging, like jumping out of a tall building on fire shooting a gun while falling. Deciding whether an actor can do any actor action in a scene requires an evaluation of their ability and confidence to do what is needed. When it really has to be the actor, there are times we change how the scene is written; or we can use a stunt person and keep it all as it was intended. A good stunt coordinator will be good at having many options to make this happen in a way that pleases everyone.
What can an actor do to be of service to the stunt coordinator?
When the actor listens and shows confidence [while you’re] working together, it makes the scene go much smoother and look more authentic. It could be something simple, like showing the actor how to hold a firearm properly for the scene or showing them where to stand to be out of harm’s way. An actor who thinks they know it all and will not listen to any directions makes things very challenging. One of the more difficult things can be when the actor demands to do their own stunts. Then we have to simplify the scene to keep them safe; and they then think it was easy and do not realize what we had to do to make it work for them. They never get to see how much more dynamic it could have been with the stunt double doing it the way it was planned. Of course, an actor can always, no matter the circumstances, ask for a stunt double. If an actor ever feels uncomfortable with what they are being asked to do, they should ask for a stunt double.
Can you describe the stunt process on the day of filming?
The process can differ for many reasons. I meet with the director, first AD, crew, and my team before the day starts to make sure everything is in place and [to] discuss any changes. Then I meet with any actors involved to make sure they are comfortable and ready. Safety meetings can happen before or after rehearsals, but always right before we do the stunt. In this meeting, we cover every detail of the stunt, down to where crew would be standing.
We go over specific detail that includes how we plan to do the stunt, any equipment involved, and use radio channels for communication. Safety personnel would be placed into their positions and procedures [would be] discussed [for] if anything were to go wrong. Depending on the stunt, an ambulance and paramedic [may be] on standby, and if pyrotechnics are involved, the fire department will also be there. Once the stunt is executed, we will make sure everyone is safe and evaluate if we need to do it again or move on. Sometimes we do two takes even if everything went perfectly; it depends on the stunt and how challenging or dangerous it was.
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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